IBM tightens social software lineup

ORLANDO — IBM Corp. plunged its software business deeper into the social sphere by unveiling plans Monday to release updates to its front-end office software that will draw upon the social data and analytics capability of IBM Connections.

IBM Connections, the Web-based platform that has served as a corporate intranet for many Fortune 500 firms, will be upgraded to version 4.5 in March, IBM revealed at its Connect conference here. In addition to gaining some capabilities popular with some consumer-facing Web services, Connections will also be more deeply integrated into IBM’s Lotus product line, Notes and Domino. Version 9 of those applications are also due for release in March, representing the first full version upgrade for the line in five years.

That will make Notes (the end user software) and Domino (the server side platform) the “first truly social email client,” says Alistair Rennie, general manager of social business for IBM. Big Blue is the right firm to deliver that to enterprise clients because it can interpret the consumerization of IT trend in a way that respects compliance and other considerations of large operations.

“E-mail represents a place where people spend a significant amount of time,” he says. “We got the pieces in place now that we feel enables the social integration.”

Connections is built to integrate into third-party applications that could include public-facing social streams like Twitter, or in-house feeds alike. Now users will be able to analyse all that data from those sources with a new “big data” engine. There will also be embedded document management and syncing capabilities. The new Content Manager feature will allow teams to collaborate on items like blog posts.

It’s the new analytics capability that Wendy Arnott, the vice-president of social media and digital communication at TD Bank Group, is looking forward too. Although TD is currently running version 3 and plans to more to 4 before the end of this fiscal year, she says the bank is committed to the software for the long haul. It’s her job to get TD’s employees using the software effectively.

“With analytics we can start to pinpoint where the influencers are,” she says. “Who the leaders are in the organization, so we can go in there and support them.”

TD has integrated Connections into its customer support team. Visitors to the dot-com Web site now have the option to live chat with an expert that will answer their questions, a capability managed by Connections on the back end. The same service will soon be added to TD’s Facebook Page, Arnott says. The software is a key piece of TD’s social strategy.

“We don’t compete on price of product, we focus purely on customer service experience,” she says. “We’re trying to have those conversations that build that relationship to the brand. The brand is really just the people.”

IBM’s strength against its competition is its analytics power, agrees Alan Lepofsky, analyst with Constellation Research. It’s something the software firm has been building now for several years and applying it to different lines of business could be helpful. Where Arnott wants to use those analytics to motivate top performers, Lepofsky sees potential for early detection of flight risks.

“Maybe I wouldn’t say to my manager that I’ve had my laptop for two years, but you give people a forum and they’ll start whining about anything,” he says. “If they can cut that off ahead of time and reach out to that employee, that’s a powerful use case for analytics.”

The full version point upgrade on Notes and Domino represents Notes and Domino’s new level of integration to Connections, he adds. The same architecture for those products is there, but there’s more capability now.

“If they didn’t show continuous innovation in the Domino space, (clients) would move to Gmail or Exchange,” he says.

Though IBM Connections 4.5 will also tie in to Microsoft Outlook, allowing users to access profiles, files, and communities via the rival desktop e-mail client.

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Brian Jackson
Former editorial director of IT World Canada. Current research director at Info-Tech

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